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Monday, September 5, 2011

The Nature and Mystery of the Labor Exchange

Today is Labor Day—a day to honor and celebrate work.  Sometimes the opportunity to work is most appreciated when one is unemployed.  In 1980 I was unemployed.  I still can remember walking around Bartlett Park with a desperate feeling that I must have a job.  The need was not primarily for money but for a need to have my sense of self-worth endorsed.  How could it be possible that a relatively young man in his thirties could not find one organization—not one person within an organization—who could say “Yes, we can use you?”  The conclusion is unavoidable—if not a soul needs me I must be pretty worthless.  I had a burning desire to be needed, to be useful, and to be worth somebody’s time and money.  I had a deep conviction that I was worthy, how could it be possible that no one else found me so?  Soon I was blessed with a job.  The sense of joy and relief was profound.  I counted after all—I could be of some use after all.  And there was an objective measure—someone was willing to pay me for my services.  It was an entry level job—a file clerk, the pay was not great, but in a sense that did not matter nearly as much as the fact that someone needed me.  Now, years later, I have advanced to a good paying job.  I have become accustomed to a comfortable life.  But even now, once I scratch the surface of material equanimity, close beneath the outer skin is the elemental need to matter, to be able to make a difference.

Soon (in a couple years) I will retire at age 70.  I will have the satisfaction of knowing I have mattered; I have made contributions in the line of work.  But it will not be time to quit work—to quit being useful.  I will not be paid for my labor.  But that will not be the first time.  Like most everyone, I have volunteered my services for years outside of paid employment.  Now that will become my link to significance.  Eventually, of course, with enough time under my belt, I will become of little service.  I will be a taker much more than a giver.  But when I consider it in totality over time that has been the position I have always held.  My blessings have always far exceeded my earnings.  Nothing will have changed really. I came into this world and will leave this world being a debtor.  But, like with my parents who gave me life, the debt was cancelled from the beginning—from the first time they held me lovingly in their arms.  I owe, but I do not owe.  I was found worthy from the beginning.  As a smelly, enfeebled old man in diapers I suppose the same will hold true.  I will represent a need that must be fulfilled.  I will need others, and they God grant will need me not only from the income they will receive but from the sense of service given.  I owe, but I will not owe; an immeasurable debt will be covered by immeasurable generosity.  Such is the common nature and mystery of the labor exchange—by being a taker one becomes a giver, and by being a giver one becomes a taker.

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